Himalayan Journal vol.35
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Soli S. Mehta
    (H. W. TILMAN)
  9. EVEREST, 1976
    (MAJOR M. W. H. DAY, R.E.)
  10. LHOTSE, 1976
  12. MAKALU, 1976
  13. THE CLEAN-UP TREK, 1976
    (R. A. L. ANDERSON)
  17. DHAULAGIRI IV, 1975
  18. NORTH SIKKIM, 1976
    (N. C. SHAH)
    (M. DEY)
  24. CHIRING WE, 1977
  25. KINNAUR-1976
  26. BLACK PEAK, 1976
  30. ISTOR-O-NAL NORTH I, 1976
  32. AFGHAN DARWAZ, 1975
  41. EXPEDITIONS 1975-1977



IF you are posted to Nepal for two years it seems stupid not to A try to do some climbing. Andrew Russell seemed interested and two is enough to form the basis of any expedition.

Our early ideas had to be modified in accordance with what was on the famous list of mountains recognized as open for climbing by the Nepalese authorities. Finally after talking to Colonel Jimmy Roberts, that doyen of Himalayan mountaineering, we settled on Sisne Himal shown on 1 : 250,000 maps as being 22,510 feet.

Sisne lies in the Kanjiroba part of the Nepal Himalaya which is in the Tar West' region of Nepal (Karnali zone). The Kanjiroba Himal has been visited several times (see bibliography) but compared with other areas in Nepal it is still comparatively unknown. We discovered from more accurate maps that Sisne was really a complex of four peaks : a triangle of three peaks at 21,270, 21,230 and 21,160 feet; and about two miles along abridge to the West, a fourth peak at 21,742 ft. It was this peak that we chose as our objective; apart from being the highest, it also looked easiest of access lying on the outside (western) edge of the range.

At the same time as trying to find an objective we were attempting to put the rest of the expedition together. With Andrew in U.K. and myself in Nepal this was inevitably difficult. We envisaged a fairly light-weight party of four, employing no Nepalese above Base Camp, with most of the equipment and all of the food being bought in Nepal. Nigel Padfield, a doctor working with the British Nepal Medical Trust, seemed interested and John Steele in U.K. made a fourth. We seemed set to go in the autumn of 1976, but then things began to slip : it became apparent that we would not be ready until Spring 1977; Nigel dropped out and politically and financially it looked rather bleak. Nevertheless we pressed on. Andrew was at the best of times an erratic correspondent and for weeks nothing happened: it looked as though the British Sisne Himal Expedition might well disappear altogether.

"We also discovered that Pt. 21,742 had already been climbed in 1972 by a Japanese team from the Tokyo Yamatabi Club (sea bibliography); they named this mountain 'Kande Huinchuli'. Therefore we switched our plan to the triangle of peaks further East (called from here on "Sisne") but this immediately posed a problem; how to get to them? There seemed to be three possibilities: to approach from the south via the Jagdula Khola (see map); to get into the top of the Jagdula Basin (at the top of the Jagdula Khola) from the west by a hitherto undiscovered col; or to approach from the north via the Changda Khola. We knew that the Jagdula Khola was notoriously difficult and talking to Dick Isherwood-who used it to make the second ascent of Kanjiroba in autumn 1976, and who, to the best of my knowledge,was a member of the only party ever to have succeeded in traversing it -convinced me that it was out, particularly in the spring when winter snow could well make it impassable. At least the other two possibilities shared a common approach up the Chaudabise Khola and, in the time-honoured way, from there we could establish a Base Camp and then suck it and see.

11 March saw me in Kathmandu waiting for the rest of the expedition to arrive. A frantic telegram from Andrew said that John Steele our firm third member had dropped out; also there was no sign of Andrew Gray our elusive fourth member, last heard of in Ankara heading east. I decided that it was feasible for us to proceed as a two-man party and telegrammed Andrew accordingly. The next week or so was spent frustratingly waiting in Kathmandu going repeatedly to the airport to meet planes that Andrew was not on. However all was not wasted: I made contact with our liaison officer, Sub-Inspector Sham Bahadur Sahi and with our one Nepalese, Man Prasad Gurung, who Andrew had been with on Huinchuli Pathan in 1972; and with the help of the Sherpa Co-operative in the shape of Mike Cheney, bought most of our food and equipment. Eventually Andrew turned up, pleading last-minute pressing business matters as an excuse for the delay, and we prepared to fly to Jumla, the air-head for the march in to Base Camp.

We had chartered a Pilatus Porter single-engined plane to fly us and all our kit to Jumla, but it turned out, when we arrived at the airport ready to take off, that because of the distance of Jumla from Kathmandu and its height (7700 ft) the plane could not take all of us and our kit. We ieft the rice behind and arranged for Andrew to fly on an "unscheduled schedule" flight via Nepalganj to Jumla arriving the next day. I wondered rather when we should next see Andrew : Jumla is rather a long way from anywhere, road or airport.

The flight to Jumla, flying past Annapurna and Dhaulagiri, was impressive- and I could see by Man Prasad's rather peculiar colour that he thought so too. On landing we were besieged by coolies and with their help we pitched our tents by the side of the airstrip. After the bustle of Kathmandu, Jumla seemed pleasantly slow-moving; we wandered into the town to report ourselves and try to get some porters. The latter proved surprisingly easy and we arranged with a casual passer-by to bring 15 porters to the airstrip in two days' time. This arrangement turned out well as the passer-by became our 'Naik,' or porter leader. Jumla is the sort of place one can see most of in a fairly short time and we sauntered back to the airstrip to try and make some order out of the chaos that our gear had been dumped in. We also inherited an excellent cook Angyala Sherpa-from a Frenchman who was going back to Kathmandu.

Andrew turned up next morning as I was still in the tent. He had had a haircut so I did not immediately recognize him as he got off the aircraft. He was somewhat put out that no one had gone to meet him, but soon succumbed to the Jumla lassitude and spent most of the day asleep, for he had not had much in Nepalganj.

A few days later, after a wet night when we discovered that however good at keeping the snow out our tents might be, they were absolutely useless in the rain, we set off. It was good to be on the move. The walking was superb : along irrigation ditches above the river, up and down through pine forests; the bridges were solidly constructed too-so much better than those in other parts of Nepal ! That night we stayed in a school house and pressed on to above the last village the next day. Although we were making reasonable progress it seemed that the porters could go much faster. Therefore either Andrew or I went ahead to choose stopping places, while the other stayed with the porters and kept them going. This system worked well and after a spetacular climb through the Chaudabise Khola gorge we reached a site for Base Camp at 12,600 ft at midday on 30 March.

We paid off the porters under a sullen sky from which intermittent snow-flakes fell and set up Base Camp. We also took stock of our surroundings. It was, as Andrew said, rather like Scotland. We were in a small copse of juniper at the entrance to a dead flat valley. The un-Scottish aspect began at the far end of the valley where the impressive wrest face of Kande Huinchuli, dominating the cirque, rose some 9,000 ft above us.

So far our progress had been fairly impressive, 6 days from Kathmandu to Base Camp is good going and I think that Andrew was still suffering from jet lag. Now we had reached the suck- it-and-see stage; it was necessary to get fit and to discover a reasonable approach to our mountain. To start with we went up to the ridge bounding the south side of our valley. Progress was incredibly slow, the snow turning to porridge as the sun came. It was an almighty effort to put one leg in front of the other, but, for once, the weather was fine and we both agreed we would be nowhere else. What we saw to the south, when we eventually dragged ourselves to the top of a small pinnacle at about 16,000 feet, was not encouraging. There did not seem to be an obvious col giving access from the west into the Jagdula Basin. We picked out the route which the Japanese had used who had made the first ascent of Kanjiroba in 1970; we remembered that they had reported using 45 pitons and 7 expansion bolts plus a vast quantity of fixed rope in their descent to the Jagdula. It did not seem the route for us.

Next we tried to the north to get into the Changda Khola. The carry round was delightful and we camped at the valley junction then climbed up the snow some of the way to leave steps for the following day. In the morning the sky looked threatening but we managed to reach a col just in time to see that it led down easily into the Changda Khola before the cloud and snow swirled over. We returned, after an awkward descent across snow-covered builders, to find the tent half buried. We dug it out and made a rapid retreat to Base Camp in a blizzard. We had not yet seen our mountain.

The bad weather continued for three days but we were acclimatizing well and at that stage there seemed to be no hurry. We resolved next to try and get on the north bounding ridge and climb Ft. 18,060-from where we reckoned we would at least see Sisne and would have a good view of the upper Changda Valley. To do this we chose a rather unfortunate route which looked to be a fairly easy ridge leading up from a scree slope. We took Man Prasad with us and set off on a fine morning. The ridge turned out to be much more difficult, containing several awkward steps, and took much longer than anticipated. We dug out a place for the tent in falling snow. Man Prasad was not going well and so we left him in the tent while we went on to the end of the ridge the next day, then traversed across to pick a suitable site for a further camp. We returned to the tent in worsening weather, to find Man Prasad still not recovered. We felt he ought to go down, but the alternatives were not particularly attractive : either go backwards or forwards along the ridge-difficult with a weak Man Prasad in fresh snow-or go straight down from the ridge. We chose the latter and made a fairly chaotic descent, continuing on down until we came across a cave which, with a bit of excavation, was large enough for the tent; we were soon safely ensconced in it. The following morning was clear and Andrew and I set off to find a way down to the valley floor. Everywhere it appeared to be barred by cliffs and so it was up, to traverse across on to our ascent ridge and then down the way we had come up.

We were determined to find on easier way up to the base of Pt. 18,060 and concluded after a careful inspection through binoculars that it should be possible to get up to our cave threading a way through the cliffs from below. Our conclusion turned out to be correct, after a fairly hairy ascent on steep earth of the slag heap variety and grass. We continued on up past the cave, picked up a load we had dumped on our way down, and pitched the tent at the mouth of another ice-cave. That night a marvellous sunset ended a day of perfect weather and Andrew confidently stated that the "grand beau" had come. We slept happy.

In the morning Andrew's confidence did not seem warranted. The weather was at first fine but there was a strong wind and the tell-tale clouds which always seemed to presage bad weather soon appeared. Nevertheless we made an early start for Pt. 18,060; the ascent being accomplished easily on good firm snow. The view from the top was rewarding: we could see clearly into the Changda Khoia Valley and the summit of Sisne; the top of the Changda Khola was glaciated and the upper part of the north shoulder of Sisne appeared steep. We decided there and then that nothing would be gained by going round to the north, rather we would climb the col at the end of Base Camp Valley, try to make a second ascent of Kande following the Japanese route, then try to get down to the Jagdula Basin and attempt Sisne from there. Rather than go down the way we had come, we would try to traverse, more or less horizontally across the wide but crevassed sloping glacier shelf beneath the west face of Kande to establish a dump at the foot of where the slope steepened to the col.

By midday, when we had returned to the tent, it was snowing; next morning it was still snowing or cloudy. We needed clear weather for our traverse, as navigation through the seracs and crevasses would be difficult. In the afternoon the weather had cleared enough to move down and across the moraine to where the glacier shelf started. The next morning was dull but clear and we made reasonable but tiring progress, mostly through thigh-deep snow to a dump site (the 'Depot') where we would later establish a camp. The problem was then to descend to Base Camp. It was getting rather late and blizzarding when we decided, after casting round unsuccessfully for other routes, to abseil into a gully bounding the south side of the glacier shelf. Another couple of abseils brought us to easier ground and we made a wide swing to descend down the south side of the Base camp valley. We had had a long but ultimately successful day.

During the night Andrew complained that his eyes were hurting and by the next day it had developed into full-scale snow- blindness; he had not worn his goggles the day before because it had not been very bright. Eye-drops relieved the pain and in three days he was cured. Meanwhile we rested and made plans. Time was running out so we decided on a two-week push to climb the col and Kande, descend into the Jagdula and, if there were time, climb Sisne.

While Andrew was still recovering, I carried all the loads for our push up the valley with the help of some yaks from a herd grazing nearby; fractious creatures, they used every opportunity to hurl off their loads. From the end of the valley I took a load up the 'grassy' spur (much of the time, in fact, snow-covered) and left it at the site of a previous Japanese Camp and descended. Next day Andrew and I carried up another load and began to attack the 200-foot rock-and-ice-wall that formed the edge of the glacier shelf. The rock went easily but the ice above was both steep and hard. Andrew led out about 50 feet, left a rope in place and we returned to Base Camp.

Our two-week push began the following day. We lifted ourselves plus the last of our kit to the Japanese Camp site where we spent the night, packed up everything the next day and set to on the ice-wall. It went more slowly than expected, the climbing being hard and sustained. There was too much resistance to haul the heavier loads successfully and I found following Andrew up, jumaring with loads, extremely shattering. But eventually we pulled up the rope behind us with a certain feeling of finality and pressed on to camp about 400 feet higher in some seracs.

It was hard hot work the next day as we weaved our way round seracs and over crevasses. We reached the 'Depot' as the afternoon snow began; I put up the tent while Andrew dug out the dump and we relaxed with many brews. It snowed heavily in the night and the following morning was the first of many spent digging ourselves out. Than we staggered down through new snow to the previous site where we had left our tunnel tent, was not a happy sight : heavy snow drifted by the wind had broken one of the fibre-glass hoops - luckily we had a spare. We spent the rest of the day lugging up most of the remaining food and equipment to the 'Depot'; exhausting, but we were satisfied that we were well placed for the next stage which was to get on the col. A rather unintentional rest day followed; it was find our kit was pretty soaked. We had a good chance to dry out everything, even my boots which seemed to absorb water with the alacrity of a sponge. We also rested, or rested as well as one can in a small tent at 17,000 feet in the middle of a glacier.

We made a thousand feet towards the col in fine weather the following morning fairly rapidly, only one or two places needing the rope before arriving at a short unpleasant-looking serac-wall which barred the way: this was unfortunate as we hoped that we might be able to wind a way between the seracs but there was no choice other than to climb it. Andrew moved out to the right lip where there was a curious hole into which he got himself successfully but could get no further. I tried straight up, but was defeated by the angle and the softness of the snow which refused to take any form of anchor. Andrew tried the hole again and by an extraordinary manoeuvre with his axe and a couple of snow-stakes managed to crawl out of the hole, over the lip, and on to the slope above. I followed on up on a fixed rope and led up past Andrew who was belayed securely on to a stake. This was fortunate as about 30 feet further up I slipped while trying to negotiate a patch of snow overlying ice. I sailed gracefully down the slope, over the wall which had taken so long to overcome and landed in a pile of snow and ironmongery, more or less in the same position I had been in three or four hours before - this was depressing ! We looked at the time to find that it was later than we thought and called it a day. The descent to the tent took half an hour after dumping loads.

We were back again the next day and made rapid time in our old steps which for once had not been covered over. We made a further 500 feet to reach the next serac barrier consisting of huge ice-blocks jumbled crazily together, the gaps between them covered in deep soft snow. As we were about two-thirds of the way though the barrier, only 500 feet below the col, the weather deteriorated. There seemed to be a way diagonally up to the right across an open slope but we were soon buffeted with wind and snow and enveloped in cloud. It would be difficult to keep the right line in such conditions; besides, the high open slope seemed a rather frightening place. We looked for an alternative and wasted a lot of time and got rather cold trying to find one. It was time once again to descend and, dumping loads, we rushed down, fixing ropes in the difficult places. The weather at the 'Depot', though overcast was still calm, a strange contrast to the maelstrom from which we had emerged only 1500 feet above.

Heavy snow prevented activity for the next few days, apart from periodically digging out the tent and making a final carry of equipment up to the 'Depot'. The following day was rather better, but we delayed until midday to dry out. Previous steps had completely vanished but we carried a load up about 800 feet before descending. Time, or rather the lack of it, was now beginning to press : it looked as though we might only have to time to make an attempt on Kande. Much would depend on the weather; continuing heavy snow might defeat us completely.

A slight improvement in the weather was sufficient to spur us away on 1 May. I cached what gear we; would not need, including 200 feet of rope, while Andrew packed up the tent; we moved off finally about 10.30 a.m. The going was laborious in the extreme; it was warmer, the snow seemed to be deeper and softer than ever before and we changed the lead after about every 50 feet. We had made about 400 feet when without any warning my steps collapsed; I was knocked down on to Andrew and we were both swept down together. I tried to remember to swim but that became rather pointless when I realized: I was in free fall over the massive bergschrund at the front of the face. The light turned green under tons of falling snow and I landed with an almighty rash on the lower lip. Tremendous!-I was still alive, but what about Andrew? Calling produced no answer and I struggled to free myself. This took some time as my left leg was twisted and buried quite deeply. Then I staggered to the top of the avalanche mound to look for Andrew; I saw at once his legs sticking up - he must have fallen in head first. I tried, to pull him out but it was hopeless, the snow held him like a vice. I went back to where I had fallen, recovered my axe which had been tied to me, and an aluminium plate from my rucksack which though ripped off me in the fall had landed close by, and returned to dig him out, which I succeeded in doing after about 45 minutes. I gave him artificial respiration but there was no pulse or other sign of life. He must have suffocated, I hope quickly.

My main thought then was to try to get him down. I retrieved the 200-foot rope which I had cached and stuffed that and as much other gear as I could carry into my sack, abandoning what was strictly not necessary. I tried dragging him on a rope but it was not possible in the deep snow, so I left him at the top of the avalanche mound and tied one of my day glow overboots to him for future recognition. Before descending I searched for Andrew's sack but could see no sign of it. The descent was an experience I would not care to repeat : down through the crevasses and seracs of the glacier trying very hard not to lose the way; then abseiling down the final rock-and-ice-wall that had taken so long to climb (the 200-foot rope just reached the bottom); down the snow-covered 'grassy' spur, now by the light of the moon, and along the base camp valley going more and more slowly till I finally reached Base Camp about midnight. Next day I discovered that my hands had mild frostbite and my knee, which had been twisted in the avalanche, made walking difficult. When I thought about it there was no question of being able to recover Andrew: the others were neither equipped nor had the experience to climb above Base Camp, moreover it did not seem justifiable to expose them to the sort of risk that had killed Andrew. Reluctantly I concluded - unless it were possible to get a helicopter from Kathmandu (it turned out that this was not possible as the Nepalese have formed the sensible policy of not hazarding helicopters to recover dead bodies) he would have to remain where he was.

Six weeks later Robin Hodgkin summed it up aptly : it is not undertaking the journey that is sad, rather that it is cut short. Andrew's journey certainly had been.

  1. Three months in West Nepal", John Tyson, H.J., Vol. XXIII, pp. 89-99.
  2. "The Jagduls Expedition", Denise Evans, H.J., Vol. XXIV, pp. 63-73.
  3. "Exploring the Kanjiroba, 1969", John Tyson, H.J., Vol. XXVL pp. 135-43.
  4. "Return to Kanjiroba, 1969", John Tyson, H.J., Vol. XXIX, pp. 96-104.
  5. "Kanjiroba Himal 1970, the first ascent of the main peak (6,882 m", Osaka City University Himalaya Expedition, 1970, private communication.
  6. "The first ascent of Kande Huinchuli", Tokyo Yamatabi Club 1972, private communication.
  7. "The first, ascent of Bijora Huinchuli", Yamagata University Expedition 1974, private communication.
8. The Hong Kong Kanjiroba Expedition 1976", private communication.